Virat Kohli’s Indian cricket team had plenty of positives and some negatives in their warm-up game against Cricket Australia XI at the Sydney Cricket Ground which ended in a draw. All the batsmen got a decent hit, with the skipper, Ajinkya Rahane, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara and Hanuma Vihari slamming fifties while Murali Vijay blasted 129 with KL Rahul also chipping in with a fifty. However, the negatives were few but worrying. Shaw’s ankle injury has ruled him out of the opening Test in Adelaide but the major area of concern for India was the inability of their bowlers to run through the tail. Cricket Australia were reeling at 234/6 but numbers eight, nine, 10 and 11 combined with No.6 batsman Harry Nielsen to smash 303 runs and propel them to 544 all out and get a lead of 186 runs.
Partnerships of 179 for the seventh wicket, 41 for the eighth wicket, 33 for the ninth wicket and 57 for the last wicket are not ideal for India’s bowling unit that has been dubbed the ‘best ever’ to visit Australia. The performance of the bowlers in their only warm-up game at the Sydney Cricket Ground has raised two questions. Can the Indian bowlers take 20 wickets and can they avoid getting stung by the tail yet again Down Under?
The answer to the first question could be affirmative but the second question has been lingering in the backdrop for far too long. In previous tours to Australia, if one goes back a decade, India have lost key moments and squandered the series due to partnerships stitched by the Australian tail-enders. For Kohli to achieve success Down Under, the team must not only take 20 wickets but run through the tail in quick time.
Tail-enders hurt India multiple times
Before the start of the tour, Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri said the team must not repeat the mistake on previous overseas tours. This holds true in Australia, where they have been hurt by the tail.
The classic instance was the 2014 Brisbane Test. India had reached 408 all out thanks to Murali Vijay’s 144 and had Australia on the ropes at 247/6. Mitchell Johnson was subject to some sledging by Rohit Sharma and it galvanised the left-hander as he blasted 88 off 93 balls and shared a 148-run stand for the seventh wicket with Steve Smith (133). Although both fell in quick succession, Mitchell Starc (52) batted confidently and shared a 56-run stand for the ninth wicket with Nathan Lyon (23) and a 51-run stand for the last wicket with Josh Hazlewood (32*). The total of 195 runs from numbers seven to 11 proved costly for India and after a dramatic second-innings collapse, they lost the match by four wickets.
In the 2011 Boxing Day Test, India were hurt by the tail in a big way. James Pattinson, Ben Hilfenhaus and Nathan Lyon hit 42 runs for the last two wickets to help Australia reach 333 on a helpful deck. The contribution proved to be vital as the hosts gained a 51-run lead. In the second innings, the tail’s contribution was match-clinching. Pattinson (37*) shared a 31-run stand for the ninth wicket with Michael Hussey but a vital 43-run stand for the last wicket with Hilfenhaus gave Australia the ultimate boost and India lost the match by 122 runs. It was Pattinson’s batting with the tail which hurt India.
In the acrimonious Sydney Test of 2008, Andrew Symonds was offered a life three times as the umpiring deteriorated in the match. Symonds, who blasted a match-clinching 162, shared a 173-run stand with Brad Hogg (79) for the seventh wicket, 114 for the eighth with Brett Lee (59) and 40 for the ninth with Johnson (28). India managed 532, a lead of 69 but 329 runs for the last four wickets by Australia ensured India did not hold the advantage. They lost the match by 122 runs to go 0-2 down in the series.
Lessons from England
In 2018, India was hurt by the tail in the England series. In Edgbaston, Sam Curran (63) shared a partnership of 48 for the eighth wicket with Adil Rashid (16) and 41 for the ninth wicket with Stuart Broad (11). A total of 93 runs from the bottom three proved to be the decisive moment and India lost the match by 31 runs. The tone of the series was set and at Southampton, the series slipped away and once again it was Curran who was responsible.
The left-hander shared an 81-run stand with Moeen Ali for the seventh wicket and 63 runs for the ninth wicket with Broad as England recovered from 86/6 to reach 246. In the second innings, Curran and Jos Buttler stitched a 55-run stand for the seventh wicket which helped England set India a challenging total. India collapsed and lost the match by 60 runs to lose the series.
If India is to win in Australia, they must avoid repeating the mistake of the tail registering a big stand. A repeat of the performance in the warm-up game in Sydney could prolong their wait for a Test series win in Australia.